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October 13, 2015

Finding your way inside the convention center is now easier

Journal Staff Reporter

Photo by Lara Swimmer [enlarge]
The welcome sign gives off a soft glow when illuminated.

Washington State Convention Center weaves across three city blocks, straddles a freeway and has four main entrances.

Located at 800 Convention Place, it is the largest meeting and event facility in the state and receives about 440,000 guests a year.

But the wayfinding, branding and signs in the six-story, 530,000-square-foot main convention center complex were outdated until a recent upgrade.

The update was done in conjunction with a $21 million interior renovation completed in mid-2014. That work did not include The Conference Center.

EHS Design designed and master planned the renovation and Michael Courtney Design designed the wayfinding, branding, signs and digital signage components.

Tube Art Group and AGI Signs were the fabricators for the signs and graphics. Square Root Design and Steve Reinisch were consultants on the wayfinding and graphics.

Among the changes is a big overhead sign welcoming visitors. It is made of acrylic panels that give off a soft glow when illuminated. The panels were made by 3form, a company based in Salt Lake City that runs the LightArt studio in Seattle.

“There wasn't anything that said ‘welcome' here,” said Michael Courtney, owner of Seattle-based Michael Courtney Design. “It needed something there and it needed something dramatic.”

The other big changes are centrally controlled digital signs for wayfinding and for announcing meetings, large numbers on columns to let people know which floor they are on, and replacement of hundreds of signs.

Photo by Walter Hodges Photography [enlarge]
Rooms and common areas were also upgraded.

Courtney said the overall design is clean and contemporary and uses hospitality grade materials, which align with EHS Design's interior architectural changes.

Ed Barnes, WSCC's vice president of operations, said many of the center's clients have outgrown large hotel conference centers, but still want the feel of an upscale hotel.

So the update includes contemporary furniture and signs with clean modern typefaces, wood backgrounds and brushed stainless steel letters.

Barnes said the convention center was built in 1988. An office tower, skybridge over Pike Street and exhibit halls across Pike from the main building were added in 2001.

This meant that not all the signs in the center meshed, and in some places there were too few or too many, Barnes said.

Before the update started, Courtney said folks from his firm spent time observing people in the convention center and concluded “moving through the space is not exactly intuitive.”

It has circuitous routes, he said, and few direct sightlines “where you can look around and see there's a big conference room or conference space.”

In the update all signs were given a consistent appearance and presentation and put in places where people look for directions, such as overhead signs to meeting rooms, upper floors or escalators.

“We seldom get a chance to change the architecture,” said Courtney. “Our job is to put the right information in the right place at the right time (it is needed).”

WSCC has over 400 major directional and informational signs and hundreds of others that assist people with disabilities. They direct visitors to conference rooms, restrooms, public spaces, restaurants, parking and the streets outside.

The WSCC is one of a number of major projects in Michael Courtney Design's portfolio. The firm has done wayfinding and branded environments for clients that include Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington and Kemper Development.

Sectors it works in include health care, real estate, professional services, hospitality, entertainment, retail, higher education, cultural, arts, civic and institutional.

It is working on the graphics master plan for the Lincoln Square expansion in Bellevue and its work includes seven commercial projects in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.